Independent Studies

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Independent Studies

Speaking as a 4th year Game Design & Development student who is about to graduate, I can say with confidence that it’s extremely rare that you won’t be able to find a class at RIT that explores a topic that you want to learn more about, whatever that may be. However, there’s a chance that at some point you’ll want to take an advanced topic further than a class offers, or perhaps make time to work on a bigger project. This is where independent studies come in! An independent study is usually a one semester class that allows you to work with a professor to explore an individualized curriculum or project for college credit. These experiences can also take the form of research projects, the main difference being that you likely won’t get college credit but may instead get paid to do work, all while learning more about something you’re interested in. It’s hard to go wrong, really. In this blog post I want to explain why I think independent studies provide valuable experiences, how you could go about finding or creating one, and then how to manage the work once you have one! Of course, most of the time you’ll be able to take an already structured class, so save these for when you’ve taken all available classes on an advanced topic or want to participate in a larger project with a professor.

The Value of Independent Studies

As I mentioned above, independent studies present you with a tremendous opportunity to explore a topic or develop your skills in a way that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, and fulfill some of your graduation requirements at the same time. You’ll be able to work one on one with a professor, which will allow you to learn in a way that best suits you. For reference, I’ve taken two independent studies and am currently working on a research project. Each time, I’ve gotten to work on something really cool that I’ve been able to put on my resume and portfolio! The value of an independent study depends greatly on what you put into it, so make sure you do your part to get all you can out of the experience.

 

How to Find an Independent Study

Finding an independent study is definitely a different process compared to searching and registering for normal classes. Typically, you need to find a professor that has a project they’re working on or has specialized knowledge in an advanced topic and is interested in working with a student on a custom project or curriculum. The best pieces of advice I can give you is to get to know your professors and do the best you can in classes that interest you. If you’re really enjoying a class, it never hurts to ask that professor if they’d be interested in teaching you more, or if they have something they’re working on that they would like help with. Additionally, if professors know you’re looking for an independent study they might also recommend you to another professor if they don’t have anything to offer themselves. Also be on the lookout for emails, announcements, or postings from the college or professors for positions on already existing projects. You may not find exactly what you were looking for, but there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find something that’s interesting to you and that gives you an opportunity to learn. So overall, show and demonstrate your interest in topics, get to know people who might be able to help, and thoroughly consider all possible opportunities that come your way- even if it’s not exactly what you had planned.

How to Manage an Independent Study

Now, here’s some advice for after you’ve secured an independent study or a position on a research project. It probably goes without saying at this point, but independent studies are much different than normal classes. Now, you’ll have an active role in shaping your curriculum, including deadlines, project plans, topics to explore, milestones, what will be graded and how it will be graded and much more. Try not to be overwhelmed, your professor will work with you to determine their expectations and guidelines for the semester. It’s extremely important that you take it seriously and plan on putting the same amount of work into your independent study that you would a normal class. If there’s one thing an independent study is not- it’s free credits. Use whatever planning and time management tools you have available to make sure you’re staying on track and will be able to meet your deadlines and hand in your deliverables. Communication is key to most things in life, and independent studies are no exception. Make sure to regularly update your professor about your progress, potential issues, and questions. As long as you both are on the same page throughout the semester, you’ll find that it’ll feel much less like an actual class, and more of an exploration of something cool.

You can have a perfectly successful and interesting college experience without taking an independent study, but I think it’s important to know that they exist! They’re another tool provided by the college to tailor your unique experience, in case you want to pursue something that’s not normally taught.